Breastfeeding can be a wonderful and almost magical experience for some mamas. When it works, it can be something that you look forward to. But even then, it is often accompanied by challenges like sore nipples. Sore nipples can also plague exclusive pumping mamas. The skin around the nipples can become cracked and sore and even bleed. While in most cases, this is one of those normal things that goes with the territory, there are some simple things that you can do to help get through the process.
PINPOINT THE PROBLEM
First, pinpoint the cause of the problem. If your baby isn’t latching properly it will cause soreness. I absolutely recommend having a postpartum talk with a La Leche League member or a lactation consultant. They can help with proper latching and feeding as each child is different. The tip of your baby’s nose should touch your breast and they should latch onto a large portion of your breast. If this is painful, gently insert your finger between the breast and their mouth to break suction and try again.
Some babies have a hard time latching properly due to tongue tie or other special situations. In some cases, a nipple shield can help. A lactation consultant can help you spot issues and refer you to an appropriate medical practitioner if needed.
There are also other types of discomfort with breastfeeding that should be addressed differently than sore nipples. For example, when my baby had thrush, a yeast infection of the mouth, it was passed on to me and my doctor prescribed a cream to apply and liquid oral drops for the baby. Look for itchy, red bumps or white patches in your baby’s mouth and tell your doctor. Engorgement is another common problem and expressing milk before feeding can help. You can also apply warm cloths to ease the discomfort. None of these conditions will affect your baby and you need not worry about continuing nursing through it all.
Sore nipples can also result from pumping milk. If your nipples are sore from pumping, you may need a different size breast shields. You can also try to decrease the frequency of pumping, if you’re able to do it without getting clogged ducts.
Before feeding from the sore side, I would take a warm shower and hand-express milk until some of the discomfort subsided. If you use a breast pump instead, set it on the lowest suction that is effective. I always fed from the unaffected side first, if there was one. Babies feed eagerly at first and then slow down on the second side. Try different positions and if you need to, pump and feed from a bottle for a few days.
Mix 1/2 teaspoon of salt in one cup of warm water and place it in a squeeze bottle or small bowl. Soak the affected area in this natural saline solution for just a few minutes. Rinse with warm water, pat dry and apply pure lanolin cream (ask your doctor for a specific brand) to the area. This tremendously speeds up recovery. Wipe away any excess cream before feeding again.
Take acetaminophen or ibuprofen as needed and apply anti-fungal cream prescribed by your doctor if you are dealing with thrush.
Between feedings, you can put a soothing gel pad in your bra. Ideally, you would leave nipples exposed to air, but many mamas don’t have time to sit around topless. You can get nipple shells that create space between your bra and your nipples. I found those to be painful once my breast filled up with milk again. If you wear nursing pads, make sure to change them anytime they get damp to aid in a faster recovery. For me, most nursing pads would scratch my nipples when they were sore, so I would usually try to avoid them if possible.
CONTINUE NURSING AS USUAL
You can continue nursing your baby as long as it is not too painful. Your little one likely won’t notice any problems and, unless they are having latching-on issues, they should feed steadily.